Golden Larches Fall Colors Hiking and Photography: Enchantments 2017

Enchantments Prusik Peak Perfection Lake View

Enchantments Prusik Peak Perfection Lake View

Each year I contemplate the hike I will be making into the Enchantments for larches and fall colors.  I go over hiking gear lists, camera gear, food plans, compositions, etc.  I decided to go Snow Lakes route this year, having gone Asgaard Pass out of the Stuart Lake trailhead the previous two years.

My Zpacks pack ready to go at Snow Lakes Enchantments Hike Trailhead

My Zpacks pack ready to go at Snow Lakes Enchantments Hike Trailhead

We planned on staying 3 days near Leprechaun Lake.  The weather report indicated snow in the area we wanted to camp in and temps in the 20s so I packed accordingly.  My tent was the Big Agnes Copper Spur HV UL1.  My sleeping bag was the Mountain Hardwear Phantom 0 degree and Thermarest Xtherm pad.  My pack was the Zpacks Arc Blast cuben/carbon pack.  Arc’Teryx Bora2 boots, Cerium SV and Alpha FL jacket, Rampart pants and Atom LT insulated pants.  There’s a reason why I worked retail at the ArcTeryx store for two years  🙂

My camera gear was my Sony a7r2, Zeiss 55 and Zeiss 16-35 lenses along with my Voigtlander 10mm.  I brought my carbon tent pole tripod, which was pretty underwhelming so my shots were all handheld.  For hydration, I brought two small bottles of gatorade and made more with Endurox R4 and electrolyte tabs as I hiked.  Food-wise, I had oatmeal and high protein granola, a stack of peanut butter and honey sandwiches and a pile of snacks heavy on Snickers bars.  I left the trailhead at 32lbs, which I was pretty happy with. FWIW, I don’t do poles after an unfortunately pole to tooth incident a few years back, and I drink straight out of fast-moving streams.  This has always worked for me, but I don’t necessarily recommend it for others.

Once the dates were in place, I put out some invites for others to go along.  All this inviting resulted in two people going with me: Jenn and Erwin.  Erwin insisted on camping halfway up which is new to me but we found camping at Snow Lakes to be a nice break and got some great shots there.

Snow Lake Enchantments Sunrise Light

Snow Lake Enchantments Sunrise Light

Another nice part of staying at Snow Lake is that the next section is flat for a while.  Having rounded Snow Lake, however, the climbing begins.  We took it slow and got to Leprechaun Lake in a few hours.

Jenn and Erwin Climbing up Towards Lake Vivianne

Jenn and Erwin Climbing up Towards Lake Vivianne

We camped near Leprechaun Lake and set out getting photos.It was a great trip as always.  Oncoming snow showers sent us back down a bit earlier than expected but we decided caution was in order.  As I write this a few days later, I, of course, already want to go back  🙂  Here is a random sampling of shots from the hike:

Many more shots at Mike Reid Photography

Road Trip to Banff for Golden Larches and Fall Colors

The Enchantments Lakes Basin in Washington State is my usual Hiking to Fall Colors Larch Fest, but this year I put together a trip to the Banff area for some camping and Larch photography.  My friend and I had about a week to play with so I arranged some last minute camping at Lake O’Hara to start the trip.  From there we would head to Lake Moraine for Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass.  I’d heard reports that the colors were glorious mid September and a bit of snow had freed up some of the reserved months in advance camping spots at Lake O’Hara.

We spent two days at the campground and did a bit of hiking up around Opabin Prospect to capture amazing views that finally cleared up a bit on our last evening.  I brought my Mountain Hardwear Trango Assault tent, Mountain Hardware Phantom Zero degree bag and Kahtoola microspikes, all of which I was glad to have and made the trip a lot more pleasant.  We were warm and dry in the tent, I was warm in my bag and the spikes made getting up and back down the icy trails a lot safer.

 

View of Lake Mary and O'Hara from Opabin Prospect Voigtlander 10mm

View of Lake Mary and O’Hara from Opabin Prospect Voigtlander 10mm

We came back down after two nights and headed to Lake Moraine Lodge for some photography and hiking around the Lake itself and then up to Larch Valley and Sentinel Pass.  Lake Moraine was spectacular as always with a dusting of snow atop the Ten Peaks that surround the lake.

The next morning at 5am, we set out to hike into Larch Valley and up up to Sentinel Pass.  We hoped to hit the golden larches around sunrise and found ourselves in a wonderland of fall colors as the sun rose.

 

Fall Colors Wonderland in Larch Valley Lake Moraine Banff

Fall Colors Wonderland in Larch Valley Lake Moraine Banff

Eventually we headed back down the now-crowded trail, catching even more glimpses of Fall’s splendor in the valley.

The next part of our journey took us to Bow and Peyto Lakes, before heading back to Seattle. Peyto was crowded and not its usual impressive self so we headed up the road to Bow Lake and waited for dusk  The dusting of snow on Crowfoot Mountain made for a dramatic reflection.

The next morning, we headed back west towards the border and on to Seattle. In two weeks we would be heading into the Enchantments Lakes Basin for 5 days of backcountry Cascades fall colors and beautiful tarns.

 

 

Enchantments Fall Colors Multi-Day Hike

My Enchantments party kept shrinking until there were two of us: Dan and myself. We headed up Sunday, leaving a parking lot packed and parked cars running down the road. I basically carried too much stuff. My pack was at 45lbs which is twice what I usually carry. Part of me is proud of this: Not bad for a 50yo, but also I need more gear discipline. Many of my gear choices paid off since we had snow the second morning but it still was heavy load. I brought two camera bodies, 3 lenses and a tripod.  Didn’t end up using the tripod, but the three lenses were nice to have.  The Arcteryx Altra 75 does carry well.

A ranger was checking permits at the Stuart/Colchuck crossroads. Much appreciated and we thanked him for hanging out there being the gatekeeper.

The fall colors going up were absolutely gorgeous, and never stopped. Took a while to get up Aasgard but we reached the top with a bit of light left to find our first camp spot. Dan had mistakenly dropped our Sawyer filter down a stream chute so it was unfiltered water for the trip. I’ll get back to you on how that panned out although I’ve usually had no trouble drinking unfiltered water up there.

We found a spot around the first of the lakes and camped there. We moved the next day to something a bit more wind protected. Weather was cold and windy, with snow apparently on the way. We got the snow the next morning. I didn’t sleep well, both hearing the snow and dealing with a mouse in my tent. I thought one was trying to come in. Who could blame them? I had some seriously yummy treats in a warm dry enclosure. Turns out once he ran across my head I knew that he was trying to get out. Eventually I got that sorted.

Anyway woke up the next day with a light dusting of snow. Really beautiful landscape. Eventually it started to continue to snow for the rest of the morning and we decided to head down on Tuesday. Snow turned to rain on the pass, and continued all the way to the car and down to Leavenworth. I think it was a good decision. We shared lots of beta with various other hikers. Drove back to Seattle where my cat was very curious about my pack and its intriguing smells 🙂

Ok now some gear commentary. What I brought and thoughts on it…someone might find this useful.

Arcteryx Altra 75 Pack: Carries very well, very adjustable and comfortable. It’s so big you can get lured into bringing more stuff than you really need 🙂

Shires Tarptent Contrail: Very light, roomy and easy to set up. Tends to sag when loaded with snow and rain. Very dependent on its stakes which creates issues in soft powdery granite sand. Not much condensation when set up up facing into the breeze. I didn’t use a groundcloth this time and had no issues. Uses a hiking pole to set up. I didn’t bring poles but instead used a single 48″ zpacks carbon pole.

Western Mountaineering Versalite 10 Degree Bag: I sleep cold. I know this about myself and bring much more bag than most would. Part of this is a slower metabolism that doesn’t create as much heat in the bag as it used to. That being said, I was warm in this bag, wearing pants and a light coreloft top. My little Sea to Summit inflatable pillow and Thermarest NeoAir XTherm pad helped create a very snuggly sleeping situation.

Anker Power Port Solar Lite: I usually get a hair of a Verizon signal in the Enchantments so I bring my phone to wake up in the morning, capture candid photos and text missives of well being back home. The Anker did a great job of keeping the chargeables charged. Keep in mind that the cold is working against your batteries and often just keeping them inside the sleeping bag at night will preserve some charge.

Mountain House, Backpackers Pantry, Good to Go Dehydrated Meals: Yuck. Sorry I don’t know what to tell you. We carried an assortment of these up the hill and back down. One dinner of these was enough. One reason I love overnights is that I can bring a zip lock bag of my frozen homemade bolognese pasta sauce or meaty three bean chili and reheat.

Zipshot TR406 mini tripod. I have two monster Gitzo’s at home and they stay there when I’m headed into the Enchantments. I don’t use tripods much in the backcountry. I watch my shutter speeds and practice careful handheld technique to get sharp photos. That being said, to catch a timelapse, a small tripod helps. I like the 9oz Zipshot which basically has tent pole collapsing legs and a minimalist ball head. One secret to making this more stable that no one mentions is to spread the legs out wide enough to create some tension. That seems to help make it more solid.

Arcteryx Firebee Parka and Atom LT pants. Hiking up the hill, you are plenty warm. Its the time sitting around camp or waiting for sunrise that you need insulated layers. Like most NW natives, I have a whole closet of options. These two pieces however were essential to my warmth. I wore them constantly and was never cold, even in windchill gusts into the teens.

Endurox R4 and Hammer Nutrition Endurolytes. I like to think that I use every modern trick of nutritional chemistry to make the Enchantments a more pleasant hike. I mix Endurox into my water bottle as it does a great job of replenishing lost glycogen and helping with muscle damage and protein needs. Everyone has different thoughts on this kind of thing but Endurox makes me feel less sore the next day. Plus the banana flavor is yummy. Since I tend to sweat like a waterfall, eventually I’m going to flush out my electrolytes which leads to cramps. Putting some Endurolytes in my drink helps ward these off. A pinch of Sea Salt will do the same thing but I like the Mango flavor.

Ok that’s what I have….hope it helps

 

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First of the Fall Colors Larches – Blue Lake

Fall colors were beckoning out on Highway 20. Its a bit of a drive to this wonderland from Seattle, but oh so worth it. There are several awesome fall colors hikes along the highway. We arrived at the Blue Lake trailhead in the afternoon to a full parking lot and cars parked out on Highway 20. When we came back after sunset, the lot was empty.

This trail is in great shape. No stairsteps over roots, mostly dry. Came across several people with dogs. I love seeing dogs on the trail. Honestly most dogs treat the wilderness better than many people. Anyway the lake and the larches are spectacular. Incredible views in every direction. A short easy hike with incredible payoff. Warming up for the Enchantments next week and this is a nice introduction.  #larches #fallcolors

 

Blue Lake Fall Colors Reflection

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Enchantments Lakes Basin Fall Colors with Zeiss 85mm Otus and Sony a7r2

The Enchantments Lakes Basin is one of the toughest and most rewarding hikes in Washington.  Once you’ve been up there, it’s hard to stay away as the larches turn golden in late September.  This year I decided to take two cameras, three lenses and two tripods.  I was particularly excited to see how the Zeiss 85mm Otus would capture the detail and the glow of the larches as they showed off their autumn palette.

I camped overnight and eagerly anticipated the morning light.  About an hour before sunrise, I headed out with the Otus mounted via Metabones on my Sony a7r2.  I tried to capture not only the broad landscape of fall colors but also the closeup details of the larches and their reflections in the lake.  Once the light had passed and the sun was overhead, I could barely wait to see how the shots had turned out. Mike Reid Photography

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Annual Visit to the Enchantments Lakes Basin for Fall Colors and Larches

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Set out to find some fall color and larches. Won the walk up permit drawing, interfaced with the cranky permit lady (she reminds me of the accountant from Monsters Inc.) and quickly organized into a party of 8.
I’d like to provide one of those butterflies and rainbows trip reports where everything is wonderful but seriously, this hike is a slog. Its officially the 8th toughest day hike in the country and for good reason.  I got my pack weight down to 28 lbs including a bottle of Pyramid Oktoberfest and a pack of Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte Via.  My Zpacks ten degree sleeping bag weighed 1.5 lbs. My pack was 3. My tent was a Shires Tarptent weighing 1.6 lbs. Almost everything metal was titanium or carbon fiber.  I planned on eating peanut butter and honey sandwiches. I carried a liter of water, planning on filtering more as I went along. Its a long hard hike, each step contemplated carefully so as not to trip/fall/slide/tumble etc. Lots of hydration, sweat, aches, thoughts of anything other than how my thighs felt. Reaching the top of Asgaard, I didn’t have some wonderful revelation of otherworldly beauty, instead more real thoughts of cramps, observations of desolate granite and an eye on the watch to be sure to reach Leprechaun before dark. Ran into some guys camping right on the trail above Inspiration. Really? So many awesome spots nearby. Oh well.

Got up early for sunrise and got some decent photos. Decided to leave via Snow Lakes despite having to arrange a ride back to Stuart where my car was. I never seem to want to visit Asgaard twice in one hike. I cant imagine why. Many in my party had never been to the Enchantments before so that was fun to show them around. But their whining about suffering and how they were getting old was tiring as they were half my age 🙂

Cliff Notes: Decided to go in via Colchuck and Asgaard, camp near Leprechaun Lake and then down via Snow Lakes. Colors are looking great and weather is awesome. Made seven new friends along the way and had a great time. Lots of Aleve and Advil recommended. Once you’ve seen this, you cant stay away.

Mysterious Horseshoe Lake, or Beyond Lake Stuart

Mysterious Horseshoe Lake, or Beyond Lake Stuart

I hadn’t seen enough Northwest alpine larches changing color so a friend of mine and I headed up past Stuart Lake to Horseshoe Lake. We had heard it was much like the Enchantments Lakes Basin and it didn’t disappoint. The “trail” past Stuart is an unmaintained combination of more than 100 blowdowns and routefinding, then 1100 vert feet of scramble to the Lake. However its an amazing spot once you get there and we had it to ourselves. Canon 5D2 and Zeiss 21/50mm.

On a side note, climbing back down from the lake, my front teeth impacted my hiking pole with sufficient force to break one of the lower ones. So I am on the mend this week and contemplating implant dentistry 😦